CSF Saves Griller

The CSF previewed on this blog over the summer has arrived, and it is delivering great happiness to our home. Called Walking Fish and started by a group of Duke students at the Nicholas School, it is now delivering fish caught by North Carolina fishermen to members once a week. (Shares are sold out; watch the site for opportunities for next year.)

CSF stands for “community sponsored fishery.” It works much like a CSA (community sponsored agriculture), in which you purchase a “share” in advance and receive weekly deliveries. (We pick ours up at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.) The advantage for the fishery is that they are guaranteed a certain level of income. The advantage for us is fresh fish at a decent price. For $11.67 per week, Fred and I receive between 1 and 2 pounds of fish, or roughly $7.78 per pound.

Fred forgot to pick up the first week’s delivery, but I have begun to forgive him. After that disaster, however, we have so far received shrimp, yellow-bellied spot, and mullet

which we prepared like this

The side dishes are mashed potatoes with roasted squash, zuchhini, onion, and tomatoes. But those are unimportant. The important thing here is that the fish is GRILLED–deliciously, beautifully, wonderfully grilled.

My days of embarassingly inept grilling may be drawing to a close. Thanks to a Saturday spent watching my friend Bebe, an expert griller, prepare salmon, I quickly discovered a painfully obvious reason for my failures.

I was excited when Bebe invited me over for fish one Saturday, and even more excited when I realized I’d have a chance to watch someone who knew what she was doing work the grill. I had planned to watch her technique closely: how she laid out the fire, whether or not she covered it, how much she opened the vents once lid was put on.

I stood in her backyard, wine glass in hand, ready to take notes as she gathered her charcoal and implements.

“I’m really glad I have the chance to watch you do this,” I said. “I just can’t figure out why I can’t get my food to cook right on the grill.”

“Well, there’s nothing to it,” she said. (All grillers say that, but if there were nothing to it, poor Fred would not have suffered through multiple servings of simultaneously charred and raw steaks.)

“Maybe for you,” I said, and blathered on as I watched: “I wonder if I’m putting the lid on too soon? Oh–I see you’re opening those vents underneath. I do that too, but it doesn’t seem to matter. And you’re using self-lighting charcoal–well, we can’t do that with our grill because it has the option of using a propane tank to light the charcoal and if we ever want to do that we can’t use the self-lighting grill or we’ll blow ourselves and the entire neighborhood sky-high.”

Then she put a pile of charcoal on the grill. A big pile.

“You use THAT MUCH charcoal?”

“Yeah, you need to make a pretty big fire. And it needs to get hot–wait until the flames die down and all the embers are red.”

Oh.

So for the mullet, I got me a big pile of charcoal–roughly three times what I’d been using before. I completely filled that damn starter and fired ‘er up. And the mullet was great.

3 thoughts on “CSF Saves Griller

  1. First, I love the idea of you local fish co-op. That is a genius idea, and good for you for being a part of it…

    But…

    OHHHHHH… I hate to take exception, but self lighting coal is a HUGE mistake. It has chemicals, that continue to burn throughout your cook. Those chemicals will flavor your meat.

    Think of it like a smoker. People will cook with different woods because it flavors the meat differently. A Pecan wood cooked fish will taste different than a Hickory wood cooked fish. Just that little bit does flavor different.

    The chemicals in a self lighting coal will flavor just as much as a wood will (and there are thousands of smokers that know wood flavor matters).

    I know you are just getting your feet wet, but bad techniques starting early can become bad habits. Buy a chimney starter. In the long run, it will save you a great deal of money (even over using the propane starter option… propane really does cost money. One tank costs twice the price of a chimney starter). Just a bit of paper (I use the Kansas City SPorts section, all it is good for) and your coals will start fine, with NO lighter fluid and NO chemicals. It just takes about 10 minutes longer to get your fire started.

    Better taste, and saves money… look into this

    But, bottom line, your fish looks terrific

  2. And one more thing…(sorry)… If you buy the webber chimney, lay out a single layer of uncooked coals, fill the chimney, light it, spread over the layer of unlit coals, it is perfectly measured for the right amount of heat. Any Loew's or Home Depot will have that brand

  3. Thanks for the tips! I guess I didn't make it clear, but I did use a chimney starter all along. The problem was that I was filling it only about half full. But now I will definitely avoid the self-lighting charcoal!

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